This week Livability ranked downtown Provo the eighth best in the nation. The article mentions downtown’s architecture, mountains, and “quaint, village-like atmosphere” as notable assets. It continues,
Historic downtown Provo encompasses 35 blocks and contains more than 150 retail stores, 39 restaurants and several government and private offices. In addition, many consider the Covey Center for the Arts and farmers market among the district’s top assets. Turn-of-the-century street lighting and traffic signals add to the historical ambiance that visitors and residents embrace.
This is news great for Provo, but what does it actually mean?
Among the obvious lessons about the importance of preserving historic architecture, improving walkability, and investing in growth, I think there may be another more important point: uniqueness and local loyalty pay off.
Consider: of all the restaurants in downtown, every single one is independent; all of the entertainment venues specialize in local performances; even much of the historic architecture was designed, out of necessity, by a local architect.
There are hundreds of “quaint, village-like” downtowns in the U.S. Many of those downtowns are great too. But a city doesn’t rise to the top of the pack by slavishly copying other cities; it rises to the top by developing a unique character that can’t be found anywhere else.
As I write this post, I’m thinking in part of conversations happening on the Keep Downtown Independent Facebook page. Those conversations mirror many others going on in Provo and elsewhere about the relationships of local and non-local business.
But this much is apparent: 1) Provo’s downtown is being recognized as among the best of the best; 2) it also has very few non-local businesses; and 3) that lack of chains is atypical, in my limited experience, for a downtown.
The logical conclusion from those three points is that downtown Provo’s unique, local business composition has something to do with its growing success. It follows then that bolstering that composition would increase success, while compromising it would jeopardize success.
I don’t have a conclusive argument to make on this subject and I tend to shy away from any one-size-fits all solution. But as the city moves forward it’s my hope that it becomes more unique and less like the many other downtowns that it has already surpassed.